Grand Hotel (1932)
Grand Hotel is the essence of Hollywood Cinema. Lavish, expensive looking, big names acting big roles, plot twists, murder, dual identity – Grand Hotel moves beyond narrative-driven, theme-based writing with characters serving a plot, becoming a story driven by characters who are as unique as their motivations. It’s a film crafted to let actors do their thing, and as a modern audience I’m with them every step of the way.
This film could well be thought of as a precursor to films such as Ocean’s 11, with their ensemble cast of film stars providing the primary marketing thrust. I’m glad the producers of this film broke with the tradition of settling for two big-name actors in the leads and went with such a large cast of stars, because it means I’m able to experience the performances of some of the era’s biggest celebrities in just one film rather than two or three.
And what weight these actors have! Names I know which are famous just for being famous… Greta Garbo, John Barrymoore, Joan Crawford… I feel like the selectors of The Award in 1932 knew that they were choosing a film which would be treasured for the era it represents. With many actors these days striving for roles which are unique or offbeat (as all good actors should!), it took a little while for me to absorb just how courageous this ensemble was. All of the characters are deeply flawed, some irreconcileably so, but the actors get stuck in and it is their bravery for playing people with real issues which makes this film shine.
Technically, I noticed some subtle advances in editing while watching this film. A wonderful shot of Wallace Beery’s eyes followed by a close-up of Joan Crawford’s legs implies so much more than it states outright. And some of the superbly designed shots of the hotel’s Art-Deco lobby are as cleverly constructed as those in the old Silents.
In selecting Grand Hotel as the year’s top film for 1932, the Academy has immortalised the Golden Age of Hollywood at its most Grand.